Our God, Eager to Save

Posted January 10, 2010

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded... [Read More]

The Humbled Tsunami

Posted December 2, 2011

When the warning sirens went off, residents in a south Sendai neighborhood fled to the local school. Together with panicked children still in class they climbed to the rooftop. Some 600 altogether... [Read More]

Japanese Get "Bach" Hope

Posted September 21, 2011

Who would have thought Bach would be involved in 21st century mission work in Japan? I have frequently read with interest of the strong connection between classical music (particularly J.S. Bach) and Japanese interest... [Read More]

Tsunami Ground Zero

Posted April 7, 2011

I still haven't returned from tsunami ground zero. That is to say, although I've been back several days already, the reality of the scene is still with me. The incredible amounts of mud in once beautiful homes... [Read More]

"Nice Try, Kevin" File

Posted February 9, 2011

This one goes into the "Nice try, Kevin" file. I just thought it was a nice-looking bunch of flowers in the storefront and, on the spur of the moment, decided Kaori deserved to enjoy them. Chrysanthemums, however, are... [Read More]

The Gulliver Complex

Posted November 9, 2007

I'm a giant again. Well, not really. But it sure feels like it again since returning from the States. The first sign was bumping my head in the shuttle bus from the airport. By habit, I normally duck my head through any... [Read More]

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

Posted January 31, 2010

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a... [Read More]

More Powerful than Bombs

Posted July 5, 2008

Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan's... [Read More]


Posted September 14, 2010

I'd been putting it off. Although I knew it was important, taking inventory of our earthquake and disaster gear just wasn't getting done. Japan rests along the "ring of fire" in the Pacific ocean, a stretch of area that is... [Read More]

150 Years Later

Posted March 17, 2009

This spring marks the 150th anniversary of Protestant Christianity in Japan. The first protestant missionaries set foot in the port of Yokohama back in 1859. Now they were real church planters -- overcoming all... [Read More]

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I for Japan. Japan for the World. The World for Christ. And All for the Glory of God.

— Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Evangelist

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Rambling Notes from Japan

Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.

A Church Without Doors

There's a church without doors in Miyako, Japan. We've seen it for ourselves! The love of Christ spills out of the building and into the community.

"Up until the 311 tragedy, most Japanese didn't even know a Christian. They didn't feel anything toward the church or Christianity period!" says a Miyako Community Church member when I asked her about the impact of the ongoing relief work. "The tsunami changed things. Now, many people around here can say they know a Christian!"

Our team of six from our church plant, Denen Grace Chapel, again worked in the tsunami-struck area for a weekend last month, and can testify to Mrs S's words. Now, through the work of literally hundreds of Christian volunteer relief workers, many understand what Christianity is about: a neighbor there in their time of need with God's words and hands of hope.

Even the local police!

My heart skipped a beat when the Japanese police officer approached our vehicle. I was in the driver's seat; our church team rode behind. We had just stopped at a scenic overlook when the patrol car pulled in next to us. "Are you a church?" the officer asked. "Yes," I managed, confused as to why he would ask and not sure whether this admission would lend credibility or suspicion to my case. "Thanks for your work!" he replied. Then added cheerfully, "Say 'hi' to Pastor Iwatsuka." He recognized our borrowed church vehicle and just wanted to say thanks!

This was another reminder of the impact this church has had in the community since 311. Even the police can say they know a Christian, and have a good opinion of the church's work! Pastor I is now an integral part of community networks, involved in ways the church used to be shut out from.

I preached at the church on Sunday AM, giving Pastor Iwatsuka a needed break. Our team brought some special music. Attendance numbered maybe a dozen or so, typical size for a Japanese church. But that's not their real size...

God has thrown away the doors of the church to provide it with perhaps the greatest opportunity for community engagement in Japan in the last 100 years. And this little church has seized it. Of the 60+ temporary housing areas around Miyako, the church has a ongoing presence in 26 of them!

Into the Community

We follow Pastor Iwatsuka to our first venue: a cluster of temporary housing in Miyako. Pastor I explains the dynamics and challenges for the people in these tiny barrack-like quarters. Three years after the disaster, lack of progress and despair has resulted in mental problems. Suicide is up. 8 out of 10 men are at risk.
Pastor I greets the residents by name, and casually picks up conversations on things they had previously talked about. He knows them!

Meanwhile, we set to action. First, we go door to door, distributing the small gifts and Scripture bookmarks we prepared, and inviting the residents to join our "mobile cafe" in the community room. There, our own Mrs. U has prepared a Bible calligraphy lesson. Residents trace simple Scripture verses like "The joy of the Lord is my strength." We serve hot coffee. I share a short message from the Bible. We sing and pray together. Then we serve them lunch: taco rice and salad. The men are reluctant to come out, so we hand deliver this meal to some of those shut-ins.

We say our goodbyes. Everyone steals a hug from the odd American (myself). Then we go to another temporary housing area and do it all again.

New Waves

This is our fifth trip to post-tsunami Japan as a church, and my ninth visit. The long trek up and back (12 hours by car) is exhausting, but the work is exhilarating. And it REALLY matters to the survivors. Some were near tears, reluctant to let us leave, even following us to our vehicle. Pastor I showed us the activity calendar on the community room's wall. The church-sponsored mobile cafes were the only thing they had! Other NPO activity and volunteers have dried up or moved on. But the church remains!

Though we're still careful to honor the community's rules (no overly pushy proselytizing), none really mind us opening the Bible, praying with them, and using creative means (like calligraphy) to bring God's gospel words of hope. And I've never heard a more tear-jerking strain of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" than the one the residents sing together with us. For the first time, parts of northern Japan are learning that they have a friend in the church, and a friend in Jesus. They are seeing a church without doors lovingly engaging their community and lives.

Pastor I takes us to the harbor around sunset. He shows us a tsunami warning tower with markings on the wall that indicate the height of the previous waves [see photo]. Wow! Yet that great wave of destruction on 311 was followed by greater waves of Christian testimony, and, I believe, will in time produce a great wave of spiritual awakening in northern Japan.

Would you pray for this ongoing relief work among the people of northern Japan? Pray that more would want to know what motivates these Christians to keep coming and keep loving them.

I have uploaded more photos for you to view. More info on Taro (the super seawall town) relief work on our blog here, here, and here.

Another Visit in Taro

I've just returned from a relief trip with a couple others members from our church plant in Kawasaki. I've written elsewhere on this blog about the coastal village of Taro and its great seawall broken and humbled on 311. It generates much emotion to visit an area so obviously devastated by the loss of so much. It will be many years before this place comes back. 

It's a 12 hour drive to Taro from Kawasaki, farther than an international flight from Tokyo to Chicago (and not any easier on the legs and back). The trip had a few unexpected "slips" and "turns" as we ran into a late-winter snowstorm near the coast. Japan generally does not do a lot of plowing, and no salting. So, the mountain roads were quite an adventure to navigate with "normal" tires. Fortunately, I had tire chains along. Unfortunately I had never had occasion to practice putting them on. The chains claimed to be "NO-PROBLEM-30-seconds-EZ-on-and-off chains." I can tell you, in the cold, dark and snow, it was nowhere near EZ. I finally gave up and crawled slowly, slipping and sliding, to the gas station for help. It took them 30 minutes. 

This trip was to a different demographic of people. The survivors who lost their homes in the tsunami have either moved out of the area, rebuilt elsewhere, or are living in temporary housing units. There are several such temporary housing villages within a short distance of Miyako/Taro. During our time in Taro we visited two of these. Nearly 1000 people were clustered together in each village in what resembles army barracks. Space is tight and living is cramped and uncomfortable.

We cooperated again with a local church to do some simple survivor care with these residents. We hosted "mobile cafes" to encourage gathering and sharing with one another. When we arrived in the villages, half the team went to set up the cafe, the other half knocked door-to-door and spread the word that the cafe would open soon. I could tell by the surprised look on some of the residents faces that they had not encountered a big-nose American recently, much less one that spoke Japanese at them. I'm not sure whether this generated more curiosity in the cafe...or more fear. 

We used a common room with rows of tables for our cafe. Off to one side, a table of Christian resources was set up. People looked through and took Christian literature as they pleased. Although we brewed some great coffee, these cafes were hardly quiet coffeehouse experiences. They were times of loud interaction as residents had a chance to share freely and process the events with relief workers. 

Restoring the social fabric of connectedness that was torn by the tsunami is probably the most difficult part of the recovery, but the most needed. One participant of such a cafe said to me, “If we didn’t have this cafe, I don’t think we’d be able to put up with this place (temporary housing communities)...I think I’d lose the fight with loneliness.” I had a particularly interesting discussion with one resident which I will share in a later post.

Unemployment in the tsunami areas is a real problem. Residents try to do their best with a little bit of government assistance and help from family. It will take a long time for the economy to come back. I noted, however, that the town now had a new gas station and convenience store to give people some options for essential things. Ironically, new vending machines were also in place alongside the otherwise barren area next to the sea wall. I suppose a can of hot coffee in the cold winter months is indeed a kind of emotional relief needed.

Without work, residents look for things to keep them busy. One resident shared her newly-acquired talent of basket-weaving. It seems this is a very therapeutic hobby. Her bags and baskets were so well made that we strongly encouraged her to consider selling some. We told her that many people would love to buy a well-made eco-bag for shopping in a desire to support the Tohoku recovery. Of course, true to rural Japanese form, she was very self-deprecating and resisted our praise. We did manage to get her to pose for a photo, though.

I have the sense that God is doing great things in this town and will build His church here in the years to come. The mission potential of historically tough towns like Taro has seen a reboot with the tsunami. Closed networks have cracked open. New networks are being created. A new spiritual openness exists. Community is being reborn. And in that newly forming community, the church will find an opening for its message.

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Taro can't deny that it is being gently loved by God's people. In this Christlike love, the church will put down roots in the "swampy soil" of Japan. Toward this end, would you continue to keep Taro and the Miyako area in your prayer?

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We serve with WorldVenture, an evangelical faith mission. Our sending/home church is Cornerstone Church of Lansing, Illinois.
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